Trail runners are an adventurous bunch. We like to explore, see new places and find ourselves atop new peaks. The anticipation of new sights and discoveries is one of the many attractions that keep us engaged in the sport. But for most trail and ultrarunners, it’s not feasible for every single run to happen on an unexplored route. Jobs, proximity to trails and family responsibilities factor into route options. Sometimes these limitations can feel like a failure, but wrapped into every challenge exists an opportunity—even when the hurdle is repeatedly running the same routes every week.
In the absence of navigation and being on the lookout, there is a chance to develop new mental skills and improve existing ones. When a route is familiar, our minds have the capacity to focus on things beyond moving over the terrain, so it becomes possible to dive into new psychological skills that could help us late in a race or when motivation disappears.
By staying close to home or near a trailhead, your home or vehicle can be used as an aid station for long runs. This can be especially helpful when temperatures are very warm and it’s cumbersome or unrealistic to carry adequate fluid for longer runs. Or, if it’s an interval workout and going light and fast is the goal, it’s easy to resupply mid-workout. This situation can also be a great way to test gear within the same run. From wanting to change out of wet clothes or enjoy a warm cup of noodles after four hours, having a designated aid station like this allows a runner to try gear and nutrition in a manner that isn’t possible during a single, far-from-home expedition.
Additionally, most trail and ultrarunners have responsibilities that go beyond training. Whether it’s caring for young kids, aging parents or animals, designing routes that allow you to accomplish more than one goal at a time is possible with enough creativity and patience. Running neighborhood loops and checking in on those who need you intermittently throughout the run can allow you to complete a training session while being attentive to other needs at the same time.
Most of us think a loop route, or at least a lollipop route, might be more interesting when looking at a map. However, using a highly familiar route allows precise control over distance and elevation. This is especially true for out-and-back routes. Choosing a well-known route tends to be more efficient than mapping out something new, calculating distances and vertical gain/loss and estimating hydration and calorie needs. So, whether it’s hill repeats or strides along a flat canal corridor, having a route that is nearby and familiar can be a lifesaver.
And what about friends? When socializing and training overlap, opting for a route that is more accessible, dog-friendly or in a central location can help achieve numerous goals. Most of us lead busy lives and it can be helpful to connect with friends while also checking off a training session. While the trail that meets these requirements may be one that you’ve run hundreds of times, it promotes a situation where friends can come together, share some miles and stories and leave after having checked two boxes at once.
These tips are not to suggest that trail and ultrarunners should give up exploring new routes and areas. The adventure aspect of trail running continues to propel our curiosity and it should be fed whenever possible, but we should also recognize that not every run can be an all-day outing. It’s empowering to run familiar routes in order to further fitness and accommodate life obligations. Redundancy isn’t failure—it’s an opportunity that can be leveraged.